The year is 1720 CE And by that I don’t mean the year Jonathan Swift began writing “Gulliver’s Travels,” the pirate “Calico Jack” Rackham was hanged in Jamaica, or Mrs Clements began marketing the first smooth-style mustard. Hmm, seems like that 1720 was kind of boring. In this 1720, a man kills a stranger on Facebook Live, United Airlines becomes a PR nightmare, and businessman Donald Trump is sworn in as president of the United States. If German historian Heribert Illig is correct, this year is 1720, and that earlier, wrongly-numbered 1720 was actually 1423.

Heribert Illig, time lord.

Illig proposed the Phantom Time Hypothesis in 1991 because something didn’t add up about European history between 614 and 911 CE. There just wasn’t enough archaeological evidence for Illig to believe anything occurred during those years. So, if nothing happened, well, what happened?

A conspiracy, of course.

According to Illig’s hypothesis, Pope Sylvester II, the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, and Constantine VII changed the dating system to place Otto III’s reign comfortably at the millennial year 1000, a more meaningful time than, say, 999 (although “Party like it’s 999” still holds the record for the most requested Gregorian chant in history). Altering existing documents, creating fraudulent historical events (even people, such as the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne who, it is claimed, was simply a King Arthur-type myth), and tampering with physical evidence, this cabal inserted 297 years into our dating system. Two hundred ninety-seven years that don’t exist.

To back up his hypothesis, Illig said an inadequate system on dating medieval artefacts, and historians relying on written (and if Illig is correct, forged) documents, make the years 614 and 911 a bit dodgy. Mathematical errors between the Julian the Gregorian calendars further complicate matters, making a 297-year gap possible. Illig also claimed the fact that there was Roman architecture in 10th Century Western Europe shows the Roman Empire is more modern that what is currently thought.

Otto III, conspirator, or simply stylish?

Illig is not alone in this. University professor Dr Hans-Ulrich Niemitz published the paper “Did the Early Middle Ages Really Exist?” in 1995 in which he claims, “NO, the early Middle Ages did not exist.”

“Between Antiquity (1 AD) and the Renaissance (1500 AD) historians count approximately 300 years too many in their chronology,” Niemitz wrote. “In other words: the Roman emperor Augustus really lived 1700 years ago instead of the conventionally assumed 2000 years.”

Like Illig, Niemitz discusses the discrepancies between the Julian and Gregorian calendars to prove his point, but also brings up the fact that, per accepted history, Byzantium and the Islamic realms were warring at this time. But Niemitz asserts, “nothing can be said about this period, because no historical sources exist for the supposed reform in this period.”

Could it be possible that everything historians claim happened between 614 and 911 be wrong?

Critics of the Phantom Time Hypothesis use dates of known solar eclipses recorded between 614 and 911 to prove their point, along with histories in other parts of the world that account for these “missing” years. Most historians say Illig and Niemitz are wrong.

Party poopers. A conspiracy theory spanning 1403 years (or, if Phantom Time Hypothesis is correct, 1106 years) sounds like fun. I was looking forward to living in 1720. I think I’d have made quite a good silversmith.